Cape PorcupineScientific Name Hystrix africaeaustralis

Conservation Status Least Concern

Appearance

Cape porcupines are one of the world’s largest porcupine species. From the head to the base of the tail cape porcupines measure between 63 and 81cm (25 and 32in) long. Their tail increases this length by 11-20cm (4.3-7.9in). Males and females are similar sizes at between 18 and 30kg (39.65 and66lb).

Their most noticeable feature is the quills and spines which extend from their back. These are long and measure up to 30cm (11.8in) long for quills and 50cm (20in) for spines. These make them appear twice as large when raised. They can stab an attacker with these quills to defend themselves. On the tail are hollow spines which allow them to make a rattling by shaking them. The quills are modified hairs and if they fall out they will grow back.

Extending from the face are long whiskers. The rest of the body is coated with dark fur.

On each foot is five toes each with a claw. Their teeth are continuously growing so they can rip through plant material.

Lifespan

Wild lifespan for the cape porcupine is around 10 years. In captivity, this may extend out to 20 years of age.

Diet

Cape porcupines are omnivores. They feed upon roots, tubers, fruit, bark and cultivated crops. In some areas they are known to eat carrion. They collect bones which they gnaw on.

Habitat

Africa is the native home of the cape porcupine. Here they are found across the south and central areas of the continent.

They can inhabit a wide range of habitats from tropical forests to deserts. One habitat which is avoided is swamp. Part of their ability to have a wide range is a tolerance for both hot and cold.

Reproduction

Breeding takes place between May and December in the wild while in captivity they will breed year-round. Pairs will mate for life with both parents involved in the care of the offspring.

Following a successful mating it will take 94 days for the offspring to be born. These are born in a grass lined chamber which the parents make in their den. A litter can range from 1 to 4 offspring. Over half of litters are single births. At birth the average weight of the newborn is 311g (11oz). When born, their quills are soft and sensitive bristles. These harden as they grow.

Young cape porcupines will begin to try solid food at one month old. Weaning does not occur till between their third and fourth month.

They reach their full size by the end of their first year of life.

It will be another three to five months after weaning before the mother gives birth again.

Cape porcupines achieve sexual maturity at 2 years old in females and between 8 and 18 months for males.

Behaviour

The cape porcupine is a nocturnal animal. During the day, they will either build their own den or shelter in a cave or crevice. A group may maintain up to 6 burrows which they move between. When it is cold they group will huddle in their burrow for warmth.

They live in small groups consisting of a monogamous pair and their young who share a den. During the day they will often go out foraging on their own.

Predators of the cape porcupine include big cats, hyenas and large birds. To defend themselves they will freeze. If attacked they move sideways and backwards to dig their quills in to the attacker. They may also hide in a burrow and puff their quills out to full size. This locks them in the den so they are not able to be dislodged. They are hunted by farmers when they dig up crops.

Quick Facts

Porcupine is a word meaning ‘quill pig.’

They are the largest rodent in Africa and the largest of the porcupines.

Photo Credit

By Steven Lek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons